In the spring of 1692, hysteria descended upon the quiet town of Salem, Massachusetts, snaking through the community like an insidious virus. Over several months, a group of young girls claiming to be possessed by the devil condemned a score of men and women to the gallows in one of history’s most infamous witch hunts.
It’s said many of these troubled spirits still roam Salem today—including Giles Corey, an 80-year-old farmer accused of witchcraft and crushed to death after publicly questioning the girls’ motives. Howard Street Cemetery, where Corey is buried, is one of many sites across the United States believed to host the paranormal.
But what draws us to the supernatural? Margee Kerr, a sociologist and the author of Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear, tells the Washington Post that feeling terror when we know we’re safe can bring around a special kind of euphoria and confidence. And some people see ghosts and spirits as proof that the soul can survive the body’s death, psychologist Christopher French explains in The Atlantic.
Whether or not you believe in ghosts, these seven spooky destinations prove that haunting lore is often rooted in very real and traumatizing histories.
The LaLaurie Mansion, New Orleans, Louisiana
Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurie was a Louisiana socialite known for hosting ritzy soirees in her lavish French Quarter mansion in New Orleans during the early 19th century. Guests gorged on fine food and champagne, unaware of the grisly scenes that unfolded two stories above.
When local police responded to a kitchen fire in 1834, they discovered the bodies of several horribly mutilated enslaved people in the attic. When the public learned of LaLaurie’s grotesque secret, a mob stormed the house, prompting her to flee to France. Soon after LaLaurie disappeared from New Orleans, people claimed to hear the phantom screams of her victims spilling from the house in the dead of night.
Spooky Fact: In 2014, the infamous murderess was reborn through Kathy Bates in the television series American Horror Story: Coven.
How to Visit: The replica of the LaLaurie Mansion (the orginial burnt down in the fire) is now privately owned and doesn’t offer tours, but several city tour operators, such as Free Tours by Foot and Ghost City Tours, include a stop at the Royal Street mansion on their itineraries.
The Shanghai Tunnels, Portland, Oregon
According to local lore, swindlers preyed upon unsuspecting men in the local saloons, which were often outfitted with trapdoors that deposited the victims directly into a network of underground tunnels. These men were then supposedly held captive, drugged, and eventually transported to the waterfront, where they were sold to ships as unpaid laborers; some worked for several years before finding their way back home. The tunnels are said to be haunted by the aggrieved spirits of the captives who died in the dark recesses beneath the city.
Spooky Fact: The practice of kidnapping men to work on ships came to be known as shanghaiing because the ships they were sold to were often headed to East Asia.
How to Visit: Portland Walking Tours and the Cascade Geographic Society (both currently closed due to COVID-19) offer guided tours of the Portland tunnels, where visitors get a sinister history lesson in the dark. Don’t worry: They provide the flashlights.
Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia
This menacing Gothic-style prison opened in Philadelphia in 1829 and became the first in the U.S. to implement solitary confinement, a hotly debated practice. Prisoners resided in stone cells with virtually no human contact (hoods were placed over their heads anytime they were moved). Proponents of this system believed that solitude would lead to penitence, which would ultimately result in rehabilitation. Critics, on the other hand, believed it incited emotional anguish comparable to physical torture. The so-called “Pennsylvania system” was replicated in several other states and in Europe.
It is believe the inmates’ ghosts took back the prison after it closed in 1971. Visitors claim to see their apparitions wandering the corridors and hear mischievous whispers in abandoned cell blocks.
Spooky Fact: In the mid-1800s, thousands of tourists would visit the prison—including Charles Dickens who wrote “The system is rigid, strict and hopeless solitary confinement, and I believe it, in its effects, to be cruel and wrong…”
How to Visit: Eastern State Penitentiary offers daytime tours year-round, as well as special events. Terror Behind the Walls, one of the country’s top haunted houses, has been suspended for 2020 due to COVID-19. But if you’re feeling brave this fall, explore the decommissioned prison—and Alphonse “Scarface” Capone’s cell—under moonlight with Eastern State Penitentiary’s newly launched night tours.
R.M.S. Queen Mary, Long Beach, California
This retired ocean liner sailed the Atlantic Ocean from 1936 to 1967. During its first three years at sea, the Queen Mary carried dignitaries and Hollywood celebrities, including General Dwight Eisenhower, Elizabeth Taylor, and Audrey Hepburn. Its days as a luxury ship were short lived, however, and in 1939 it was stripped of its amenities and began its second life as the “Grey Ghost,” a World War II troopship. At the conclusion of the war, it was restored to its former glory and traversed the Atlantic for nearly two more decades.
On Halloween 1967, the Queen Mary departed on its last cruise, eventually docking in Long Beach, California, its final resting place. The ship is reportedly haunted by the spirits of those who died aboard, including the young sailor crushed to death by a door in the engine room and a crew member murdered in cabin B340.
Spooky Fact: Winston Churchill signed the D-Day Declaration aboard the Queen Mary during World War II.
How to Visit: The Queen Mary no longer sails the Atlantic, but it lives on as a floating hotel and restaurant on California’s Pacific coast. Follow in the footsteps of its famous passengers and book a room in 2021. Return next year during the Halloween season to join the ghouls, spirits, and undead aboard the Queen Mary when it transforms into the frightening Halloween attraction, Dark Harbor.
Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast, Fall River, Massachusetts
On August 4, 1892, the bodies of Andrew and Abby Borden were discovered bludgeoned beyond recognition in their home. The prime suspect: their youngest daughter, Lizzie.
The Borden case was one of America’s first crimes to unfold under the media spotlight. Despite growing public scrutiny and allegations that Lizzie had financial motives for the murder, she was ultimately acquitted due to lack of physical evidence (and no one was ever charged for the murders). The Borden home has since been converted into a museum and bed-and-breakfast, where guests can see gruesome photos of the crime scene and sleep in one of its reportedly haunted rooms.
Spooky Fact: The 19th-century murder made headlines again when it received a Hollywood makeover in the 2014 movie Lizzie Borden Took an Ax, starring Christina Ricci.
How to Visit: Sleep in the sames rooms where the Bordens took their final breaths at the Lizzie Borden B&B. The museum offers daily tours and a gift shop that sells spooky souvenirs, like an ax-wielding Lizzie Borden bobblehead doll.
The Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado
One night in this hotel nestled in Colorado’s mountain wilderness inspired Stephen King’s best-selling novel turned horror film, The Shining. In 1909, Massachusetts couple F.O. and Flora Stanley opened the isolated resort—and reportedly never left.
According to staff, Mrs. Stanley can be heard playing her Steinway piano in the music room at night, and Mr. Stanley occasionally shows up in photographs. There have also been reports of bags being unpacked, lights turning off and on, and echoes of children’s laughter heard in the hallways. Paranormal experts hail the Stanley Hotel as one of the nation’s most active ghost sites.
Spooky Fact: Guest bedrooms have a TV channel that plays The Shining on a 24-hour loop.
Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, Weston, West Virginia
This foreboding asylum began construction in 1858 and opened to patients in 1864. The massive structure was designed by architect Richard Andrews to maximize sunlight and fresh air—it was believed that the building itself would serve as a healing environment.
By the 1950s, the facility—designed for 250 people—housed 2,400 patients in crowded conditions, with afflictions ranging from alcoholism to epilepsy. Patients were physically restrained and often given inhumane treatments, such as electroshock therapy and lobotomies. After more than a century in operation, the facility was forced to close in 1994 due to reforms in mental health treatment and the deterioration of the building.
Hundreds of patients died during the asylum’s tenure, and scores of guests and ghost hunters have claimed to see their shadowy figures roaming Trans-Allegheny’s crumbling halls.
Spooky Fact: The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum is the largest hand-cut stone masonry building in North America, and supposedly the second largest in the world after the Kremlin in Moscow.
How to Visit: The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum offers historical day tours Tuesday through Sunday. Visit during October to participate in ghost hunts, paranormal tours and flashlight tours, or attend the annual Asylum Haunted House.